In April Wisconsin held a high-turnout election, which is terrific. But the final count could have been even higher. State officials have a chance to boost voter participation and make voting smoother for all by committing a modest amount of funding for voter education.
The League of Women Voters urged the Government Accountability Board last week to request funding to promote its voter ID education campaign, and we are delighted they voted to do so. A vigorous state voter education campaign is sorely needed as we prepare for Nov. 8, when 1 million more voters are expected to turn out.
People who do not have an acceptable photo ID on Election Day may cast a provisional ballot, which is counted only if the voter provides the ID to election officials by end of the week. According to preliminary figures, 375 provisional ballots were issued on April 5, of which 108 were counted.
We have no idea how many people did not even try to vote under the new ID requirements.
We do know that a recent transplant from Minnesota had all the documentation he needed to register at his Eau Claire polling place, but couldn’t get a regular ballot because he did not have an acceptable photo ID for voting. He chose not to cast a provisional ballot because he knew he could not get to the DMV by 4 p.m. on Friday.
In DeForest, a disabled Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair had proof of residence and an expired Wisconsin driver’s license, allowing him to register to vote. Then he was denied a regular ballot because his driver’s license expired shortly before the Nov. 4, 2014, cut-off. The clerk did all she could to assist him to no avail. He accepted a provisional ballot but said he was sure he could not arrange transportation, first to the DMV and then to his clerk’s office, by the end of the week.
A community leader in Madison who is well informed and active in civic affairs moved some time ago and updated her address in the DMV database. She had already registered and voted at her new polling place, but on the day of the February primary election she remembered that her new address was not on her driver’s license. She actually could have voted, but didn’t even try because she thought her ID needed that current address.
These citizens were properly registered, but they were tripped up by not knowing the details of a confusing new law.
Some state officials have said that the league is out of order in calling for voter education after having challenged the photo ID law in court. We are proud to have been one of the organizations that held off implementation of the law for three years. Because of the injunctions, no Wisconsin citizen was disenfranchised by the law through 11 elections, nor were there any allegations of voter impersonation.
When the voter ID law went into effect the league added a full-time position, increasing our staff by 50 percent. And we have hundreds of volunteers in our 18 local leagues working to register and assist voters in complying with a law we opposed. Indeed, voter education has been the league’s mission for almost 100 years.
Now it is time for the proponents of voter ID to do their part and back up their claim that they would never want to prevent any eligible citizen from voting. One way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to fund a statewide voter education campaign. Surely NOT to do so reveals their claim to be just more hollow rhetoric.
Andrea Kaminski is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. @LWV_WI on Twitter.
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